Monday, 25 May 2009

Vinux 1.5 Plus: Frankenstein's Monster!

I am just in the process of uploading Vinux 1.5 Plus to the website. This is an experimental release exclusively for members of the Vinux Development Group, and will not be announced anywhere else. It contains lots of new experimental features which are bound to cause problems, so I would not advise anyone to try and use it as their primary OS! I would however like you to try it out and provide feedback on some of the new features. These include:

The Emacspeak complete audio desktop, which provides a text based interface in a terminal window or in console mode for advanced users. This can be launched from the Accessibility sub-menu or by pressing 'ctrl+shift+e' after stopping Orca and/or Speech-Dispatcher.

The LinuxSpeaks audio desktop, which also provides a simple menu driven text based interface in a terminal window or in console mode for beginners and intermediate users. This can be launched from the Accessibility sub-menu or by pressing 'ctrl+shift+l' after stopping Orca and/or Speech-Dispatcher.

Support for five more languages: Spanish, French. German, Dutch and Flemish. This can be started by typing a two letter code 'es', 'fr', 'de', 'nl' or 'fl' at the boot prompt. This will change the display language, but you will need to change the Orca voice and the keyboard layout manually for now.

I have installed Ubuntu Restricted Extras and some other non-free applications and codecs from the Medibuntu repository. This means that this version of Vinux will play MP3 files and encrypted DVD's out of the box, but be aware that this may contravene local patent/copyright laws in some countries. If this is the case then please do not download or redistribute it.

I have reinstalled all of the packages I removed from the original Ubuntu 8.10 in order to make room on the CD and I have installed all of the latest updates from Canonical as of today. Not all of these applications are accessible to someone using a screen-reader but they are accessible for someone using a screen-magnifier or high contrast themes.

I will post the URL when I have finished uploading it and tested the md5sum, which probably won't be until tomorrow afternoon. Please don't try to download this version until it I supply the URL as trying to download the temporary file might disrupt the upload.

Once again, this is a very experimental version which will probably have lots of bugs, but the feedback I get on some of these new features will help me to build the next version of Vinux which will in all probability be based on Debian.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Vinux 1.5: Better Late Than Never!

Vinux 1.5 is now available for download and testing by members of the Vinux Development Forum. If no serious bugs are found in the next few days then I will post a public release announcement on other mailing lists etc. New features include: Speech-Dispatcher as the default speech server, YASR configured to use the Festival speech synthesiser, New shortcuts to start/kill Speech-Dispatcher (ctrl+shift+s and ctrl+shift+k), Orca weather keystroke (insert+w) set to Birmingham UK (UKXX0018), Larger fonts and higher contrast theme by default, Installation of the Firefox Accessibar plugin, Mousekeys enabled by default, Gedit's advanced plugins enabled by default and the Medibuntu repository enabled by default. I have not yet implemented all of the features I wanted to include in this release. I have fitted as many features as I could on a CD sized image, but I could not fit on Emacspeak, LinuxSpeaks or support for foreign languages etc., in a 700MB image. I hope to release a 'Vinux 1.5 Plus' edition shortly which will contain both of these extra accessibility packages, support for foreign languages and some more multimedia codecs etc. However this will obviously be larger than 700MB and will have to be burnt on to a DVD. Vinux 1.5 will probably be the last release of Vinux based on Ubuntu as there are too many bugs in the latest release and their rapid and cutting edge release cycle means that it is not really a suitable base for creating a stable accessible distribution. So once I have released 'Vinux 1.5 Plus' I am planning to switch to Debian as a base. I believe this will provide a much more stable platform in the long term.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

A Freudian Slap!

As some of you may have noticed I haven't been very active on the mailing list for the last few weeks and haven't made any real progress with the next release of Vinux. This is because at the beginning of the month I was informed that myself and eleven of my colleagues in the R&D Team were being made redundant in an effort cut costs at the College. So I have spent the last few weeks concentrating on trying to find myself a new job and put Vinux on the shelf temporarily. I have now been offered a teaching position at the same College, which is what I have done for most of my working life. However, I will no longer be teaching ICT but Critical Thinking, Sociology and Psychology (hence the Freudian slap). This may at first glance appear to be a rather radical shift, but in fact I started out as a Philosophy Lecturer after completing a degree and PhD in Philosophy, so it is more of a return to my academic roots than it might first appear. I will of course still be working with visually impaired learners and continuing with the development of Vinux in my spare time! It will still probably be a few weeks before I have wrapped everything up and made the transition to the new post. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Jerky Jackalope and Other Tales.

Its been a few weeks now since the release of Ubuntu 9.04 and the overwhelming impression is one of a bug ridden disaster comparable to the first Men in Black Movie. There are serious problems with the new version of Xorg 1.6 , the installer and the new Ext4 file system. It's like 7.04 and 7.10 all over again, and if history repeats itself it is unlikely any of this damage will be put right until the release of 9.10 or maybe even 10.04! So for now I will be basing the next release of Vinux on the relatively stable Intrepid Ibex. 8.10 is supported with updates and security patches for another year which will take us to the next LTS release which will be supported for three years. I have come to the conclusion that it is not going to be practical to follow Ubuntu's six month cycle, as it takes a few months to get Vinux stable and bug free. So the options are to base Vinux on the long term service releases and/or switch to Debian as the base. Both options would offer the benefit of stability at the cost of cutting edge features. In terms of ethics and open-source principles Debian would be preferable as it is dedicated to the open-source philosophy, while Ubuntu include non-free packages and drivers etc. I also suspect that at some point in the future Ubuntu will go commercial once it has a big enough user-base, and go on to become the Microsoft of the Linux world. So once I have built Vinux 1.5 I will be experimenting with Debian Lenny which remastersys also supports, and from what I have read has more features than the Ubuntu version including a text based installer which should be more accessible than Ubiquity. Watch this space!